Who and where is the enemy?

I was looking at some books on the ancient world. A few of the books were on Rome, specifically the changes that happened after Christianization.

People often talk about the Barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome. But the fact of the matter is that the German tribes that ‘invaded’ were already there living in the empire. They had been mercenaries for generations and were trained by the Romans. They weren’t really ‘Barbarians’, in the sense of being a foreign pagan population that showed up from the wildlands beyond the Roman frontier.

These Germans were even already converted to Christianity, but it was at a time when Christianity was splintered in diverse traditions and beliefs. It’s quite likely that those in power feared the Germans because they adhered to heretical forms of Christianity. As far as that goes, most early Christians would be labeled as heretics by the heresiologists. That was fine until the heresiologists attempted to oppress and kill all competing Christian adherents. Maybe the German Christians took that personally and decided to fight for not just their sovereignty but also their religious freedom.

So, it was really just one population of Christians in Rome deciding to take power from or simply overthrow another population of Christians in Rome. Those Romanized and Christianized Germans would become the great monarchies and empires of Europe, such as the French Normans that turned much of Britain into England. And it was the Norman-descended Cavaliers who reinstated the monarchy after the English Civil War, creating modern England.

All that was meant in the ancient world by someone being Barbarian was that they were of a different ethnicity. It literally meant someone outside of one’s door, which is to say outside of one’s community. And in the Roman Empire, many ethnicities maintained separate communities. The Jews were Barbarians as well and the Romans feared them as well, although their earlier revolt failed.

It is interesting to think about those early German Christians that helped topple the Roman Empire. Maybe they were practicing for the later Protestant Reformation.

The original Lutherans, Anabaptists, Pietists, Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, etc were Germans. Calvin’s father came from the northern borderlands of the Roman Empire, in a town established by Romanized Gauls, and after Calvin escaped France Calvinism took hold in Switzerland. Huguenots also lived in the border regions of what once was the Roman Empire. The population out of which Puritanism arose, influenced by some of these German Christians, was of German descent. The English Midlands where the Scandinavians settled gave birth to Quakers and other dissenter traditions.

German Christians, along with other Northern European and British Christians, were constantly causing trouble. This challenging of religious authority lasted for more than a millennia. And to a lesser degree it continues. In the majority Germanic Midwest of the United States, this struggle over Christianity continues with much challenge and competition. The Midwestern Methodist church where my Germanic grandfather was once minister ended when some in the congregation challenged central church authority.

Christian authority is on the wane these days, though. American fundamentalists like to think of the United States as the last great bastion of Christian authority, like the Christianized Roman Empire once was. But if Washington is to fall as did Rome, it won’t likely be from an invading army of non-believers, of secularists, agnostics, and atheists. Maybe similar to those Germanic mercenaries, the defense contract mercenaries will grow so powerful that in their Godless capitalism (though Christianity has a strong toehold among military personnel and defense contractors) they will turn against their weakened American rulers. Corporatism will be our new religion, as the American empire collapses and disintegrates into corporate fiefdoms. Some would argue that corporatism is already our new religion.

Anyway, if history is to be repeated, the so-called barbarians at the gates are already here. And they have been here for a while. They won’t need to invade, as they were welcomed in long ago and were enculturated into our society. The mercenaries of our country, whether taken literally or metaphorically, might turn out to be a fifth column. The enemy within might be those we perceive as protecting us, until it’s too late. Mercenaries aren’t always known for their loyalty. So, who are the mercenaries in our society, the guns-for-hire? And who is the real enemy in this situation? The mercenaries of our society would answer that question differently, as did the German mercenaries living in the Roman Empire.

88 thoughts on “Who and where is the enemy?

  1. Speaking of enemies, the US is at war again – with Syria.

    See this –

    This is a very serious mistake. I think that Trump’s Presidency will be a disaster, because he was not the man that he campaigned to be.

    If he were remotely serious, he would end the wars abroad, bring the US troops home and then use the money on rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

    This could easily spill over into other nations, lead to a large refugee crisis, and get a lot of people killed needlessly.

    It’s interesting to note that the Paleoconservatives have broken ranks.



    No U.S. interests are threatened by the Syrian government, and at present the Syrian government’s patrons are to some degree on the same side as our government in their hostility to ISIS. Attacking the Syrian government would be a boon to jihadists, the start of a new and unnecessary war for the U.S., possible direct confrontation with Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Syria, and a potentially disastrous provocation of a nuclear-armed major power. Trump is always emphasizing how the U.S. gets nothing from its foreign wars, so it bears repeating that the U.S. would most certainly get nothing from picking another fight in the region except increased costs and new enemies.

    If Trump were half the realist or even the ‘Jacksonian’ that some of his supporters have claimed him to be, this intervention would not be under consideration, but then Trump is first and foremost a militarist and seems inclined to favor military options to the exclusion of everything else. If Trump were remotely serious about his “America first” rhetoric, the obvious lack of any threat to American interests would ensure that there would be no U.S. military action taken against Syria’s government, but his use of that phrase has always been opportunistic and it has never meant that he is interested in staying out of foreign wars or minding our own business.

    Deeper intervention in Syria seemed to be something that Trump was unlikely to do as president based on what he said during the campaign, but he could never be trusted to do what he said and his foreign policy views have always been unformed (and uninformed) and can be easily changed. Trump’s lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge make him much more susceptible to bad advice, and his lack of any firm convictions means that he is more likely than most to yield to demands that he “do something” in response to an ongoing conflict.

    I think that ideologically the left has more in common with the Paleoconservatives these days than we do with the Clinton Liberal faction, which also wanted to go to war. They are pretty much neoconservatives.

    We disagree with the Paleocons on social issues and they are a lot more free market oriented, but when push comes to shove, they seem to be a lot more ideologically honest than the rest of the political spectrum. They also seem to be pro-middle class.

    We should also pay a very close eye on which Democrats choose to vote for this war. Who is going to play bad cop this time around? Everyone knows that like Iraq, this is going to be a disaster. Washington seems determined to not learn from its past mistakes … perhaps to make the military industrial complex very rich.

    I’m thinking that in 2020, if there is a Sanders like President, they could criticize this decision and go from there.

  2. only one caveat . . . a personal insight gleaned from the Pesher Technique, Barbara Thiering: I think in the beginning, Christianity was a top-down sort of religion, that Jesus was the David king (if he were legitimate), and that his “missing years” were rich kid years, school in Rome, back and forth between Rome and Jerusalem (and Qumran, in the PT). The families were contemporary, the Agrippas, Jesus’ family, the Caesars, and all rich aristocrat types. Now you’re better at this ancient history than me, so see if this idea makes sense of anything for you, that it was actually the rich’s cult first, and so all Rome’s subject peoples resented it being forced on them. I imagine you’ve heard the theories that German antisemitism was partly the age-old German paganism VS Judaism’s monotheism, and that would fit Rome and Christendom’s oppression of all those folks too (or their sense of it). If Christianity really was a grassroots thing as they would have us believe, then who are the resentful Europeans we’re talking about, right? (and BTW, what culture ever took over the world by consensus?)

    • I would put it this way. There was some grassroots Christianity early on. It originally was a small, insignificant cult. No different than thousands of such cults in the Roman Empire. That isn’t to say there weren’t any rich people attracted to it, but obviously no one significant enough to draw any attention while Jesus was alive.

      If Christianity hadn’t been made into the imperial religion by an act of fiat, it probably would have died out like all the other cults. There was nothing that was particularly unique about Christianity. Most of early Christian beliefs, practices, imagery, etc were borrowed from other religions. It was this syncretism that made it a useful tool for imperial assimilation, although there weren’t many other syncretistic cults that could have served the same purpose.

      By the time the German mercenaries were converted, Christianity was a full-fledged imperial religion that was being violently forced onto the masses. Most people did not convert to Christianity willingly. If someone tells you to either convert or be oppressed and maybe killed, it simplifies your decision-making process.

      • that’s the usual story, based in the usual scholarly understanding, gleaned from nothing, from the bible itself, Joephus, the Clementine stuff . . . I swear, B., take a week, read the Pesher Technique website – it ain’t religion. It’ll make the story you just told me sound like the religion, which it is. Your last paragraph, I have no argument at all. It’s just that it always was that way, right from the start. Even if the living, breathing political story of the PT is not right in its details, it still shows the existing narrative, as you just stated it to me to be one of those false origin stories. All the scholarly guessing done regarding the beginning of Christianity all has the aspect of being complicit in Jesus and co.’s mythmaking and destruction of the true history of the human beings who started the church. They’re trying to put in Aborigine “before time” for us, outside of reality, they’re invested in the idea of no true history, “bigly.”

        • All that I know is that Jesus doesn’t show up in any records in his lifetime. Even the most famous Jewish historian of the time didn’t mention him. All the claimed statements referring to him at the time are forgeries. So, we know nothing of what happened then, at least I’ve never seen evidence to the contrary. But I’m always open to new evidence.

    • You state that, “They prefer your argument is “it’s just a story” to Thiering’s argument of “here’s the real story.”” The problem with that assessment is that I don’t exactly have an argument. I simply see evidence and many possible explanations with no way to absolutely prove anything. Like so many things, I’m an agnostic on this issue. I doubt too many people prefer my equal opportunity radical skepticism.

      Thiering could be right or she could be wrong, but we simply can’t know. Sure, her hypothesis is plausible and that is about as good as it gets when studying such limited ancient textual evidence. So, I’m not really arguing against Thiering and for some opposing view. I’m already familiar with the broad argument Thiering makes, as I’ve looked at some of her writings previously. And I’ve come across many other plausible theories over the years, such as the work of John Marco Allegro. Some of these various theories are quite interesting, Thiering’s theory included, but I don’t feel compelled to latch onto any of them. Even when I was a Christian, I never cared about a historical Jesus. And I’m not likely to start caring now.

      There might have been no historical person named Jesus and who went by the title Christ. There might have been many people who were mixed up into a single set of narratives. The name Jesus and the title Christ were common in the early Roman Empire. It’s conceivable that there was more than one Jesus Christ preaching. And there certainly were thousands of teachers, prophets, and miracle workers in that area during that historical period.

      In any case, there obviously was multiple influences on early Christians. There was the Jewish sects like the Qumran community and Jewish thinkers like those in Alexandria. The latter helped introduce neo-Platonic ideas into Christianity, such as non-literally and spiritually interpreting Biblical stories, and also introduced the Christian fishy. Stoics gave Christians natural law and martyrdom. Isis religion introduced Mother Mary worship. The Mystery Religions were a major influence in many ways. The hundreds of dying and resurrecting gods and godmen were a major source of symbolism and theology. Astrotheology was a general framework of thought in the ancient world that helped shape early Christianity. The official worship of deified emperors likely was incorporated into Christianity.

      You conclude that, “It’s another case of a truth that doesn’t matter, that people will not have.” Well, that could be said about many theories. I’m with Robert M. Price, in that he can see the potential merits in multiple theories, from that of the Pesher technique to that of mythicism, both of which he has written about along with much else. And in return, Thiering along with mythicists have spoken well of Price (Thiering gave a positive blurb for a book he co-edited, The Empty Tomb: “It is not new for a few lonely, persecuted radicals to deny the resurrection of Jesus. What is new in this book is that such a number of competent, scrupulous scholars are agreeing that it did not happen, and going so far as attacking fundamentalists for propagating false and misleading views of the Bible.”). Like Price, I’m more interested in opening up debate and seeing where it will lead, rather than close down debate prematurely.

      And you add that, “she really hasn’t been refuted, only ignored.” She hasn’t been entirely ignored. Some Biblical scholars have an opinion on her work, both in book reviews and scholarly writings: Géza Vermes, N. T. Wright, James F. McGrath, Edna Ullman-Margalit, C.B. Forbes, etc. Doing a few web searches, I found various scholarly commentary in response to her theory, a lot of it being negative as is expected but some positive as well. Even if not ignored, it maybe hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. Price seems to think it is worth taking seriously, although not without a critical stance. The Rational Wiki, in a short entry, also offered a minor defense in her favor.

      Anyway, consider Price’s scholarship which is quite wide-ranging. He obviously sees no contradiction or problem in considering multiple sets of evidence, analysis, and theory. He is the very essence of open-minded query, as he changed his mind over time on a number of issues. He used to be an apologist who became an atheist, but even as an atheist he held onto the idea of a historical Jesus. Then he lost even certainty of that and now, as with growing numbers of people, he is agnostic about Jesus’ historicity. He takes a position neither for nor against because it can’t be proven one way or the other. That is what led him to writing a book on mythicism, a theory he had previously been critical toward. Yet as far as I know, that hasn’t led him to retract his views on Thiering.

      In all honesty, it isn’t something I’m interested in arguing about. Whether or not Thiering is correct about some all or all of what she argues, it doesn’t change my original point. It is largely irrelevant if Christianity began with the Qumran community or later on elsewhere… or that maybe it didn’t have a single origin at all but was the merging of multiple threads of influence. The point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the early direct evidence is skimpy. This is what makes possible so many interpretations and hence so much disagreement.


      “Barbara Thiering has attempted to link pesher to the New Testament, in conjunction with her idiosyncratic approach to textual interpretation. Her approach has not found favour with the wider scholarly community, however.

      “This last statement is the favorite dismissal of her work on Wikipedia that is supported by the Christian-Wiki police. What follows here is a more precise meaning of Dr. Thiering’s discovery, described in her books and website, of the pesher in relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early Christian Church of Jesus. Given that the writers of the Gospels would have been familiar with the pesher technique of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it would have been logical for them to apply it. In many cases it is obvious, but in others it is more subtle. […]

      “Finally the most important point is that all these supposed suppositions all support each other into a coherent whole.”


      “It is a time for searching reexamination of the Scrolls and their implications for early Christianity and the life of Jesus. We can only be grateful to Barbara Thiering for her ingenuity. Though many will feel they cannot accept most of her suggestions, one must not consign them all to a premature grave. For instance, the notion that the Samaritan woman is meant as a cipher for the Simonian Helena ought not to be dismissed out of hand, given the Christian-Samaritan polemical context in which scholars have long placed the passage.

      “Certainly the surprising proposal that the Teacher of Righteousness was John the Baptist (already the suggestion of Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, who made the link on the basis of the single Scroll available to him, the Cairo Genizah copy of the Damascus Covenant) should be taken as seriously as one is willing to take Eisenman’s identification of the Teacher with James the Just. We have for a long time taken for granted that John had some Qumran affinity and that Jesus had broken with John’s sect’s penitential strictness, even that the two sects continued side by side for some time. How far does Dr. Thiering’s proposal go beyond these tenets of the critical consensus?

      “Finally, though the very boldness of Thiering’s reconstruction will cause some to dismiss it at once without further consideration such as we have sought to supply here, it ought instead to be recognized as a sign of a fresh vigor in the field of New Testament criticism. Thiering is willing to put cherished paradigms on the shelf and try something altogether new. As Paul Feyerabend has said, “The only principle that does not inhibit progress is: ‘anything goes.'””


      “The Teacher of Righteous was James the Just (though Arthur E. Palumbo, Jr., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity, 2004, may be right: as per Barbara Thiering, John the Baptist may have been the first to hold that office, with James as his successor).”


      “”Commensality” Crossan dubs it. But Crossan has resorted to the same sort of allegorical rationalizing as the old Rationalists who had Jesus walk on the stepping stones in the Sea of Galilee. His theory here precisely matches that of the much-criticized Barbara Thiering (Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1992) who says that Jesus’ “resurrection” of Lazarus really denoted Jesus lifting the ban of excommunication levied on Lazarus by the Qumran bishops. Somehow Crossan can get away with saying it where Thiering can’t.”

      • right off the top – yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say “your story,” just atheists generally’s story. The idea that if it looks like the Mithra myth, then that proves that no such Jesus existed, which doesn’t follow. If I claim Moses’ origin story, that doesn’t prove I don’t exist.
        That list of names of biblical scholars – I chased some of it down, and it adds up to nothing, a bunch of names of Christian college professors who agree for no reason at all that she can’t be right. The internet has repeated these baseless claims endlessly. The somewhat positive stuff you mention, those are the scholars and the archaeologists, some of which worked with her and disagree only in some detail. Again, back to the start of these comments, the church prefers the obscurity and powerlessness of all those theories and the combinations of them that seem to add power to an argument while only being the splinters of a shattered, non-cohesive argument. They have no interest in an historical human Jesus – same as you, ha. An historical human Jesus does not help the church, and it sure isn’t why he needs to be discovered, to help them. The real story will hurt the church and advance humanity in true understanding, to some degree.
        I have very little interest in selling you her story either, but I feel we’re not getting to a point I don’t want to let go: One, Thiering and her crew have the evidence, the original bloody texts, so this “there is no evidence” is not an argument, simply a blanket denial. That’s the only point I wish to dispute with you. The “there is no evidence” line isn’t the atheist argument, it’s the church’s. It’s their favourite too, because they know it’s true, because they shredded it themselves. Turn it around: who has more evidence than Thiering? We base our judgment on evidence of no evidence rather than actual evidence we don’t like? I suspect it’s getting into another one of our parasitic social metaphors here, the evidence of “special rules of logic” seem to be piling up . . .

      • of course I’ll let it go. I just want to make the point that your post here is even stronger from the POV of the PT, where it was always an aristocratic cult. That helps explain the resentment of the rest of the empire, and in such a way that the usual Christian persecution complex (myth) isn’t the implicit explanation.

      • “The idea that if it looks like the Mithra myth, then that proves that no such Jesus existed, which doesn’t follow.”

        That isn’t the argument of most mythicist scholars and those like Price who see value in the mythicist theory. The existence or non-existence of a historical figure is separate. But for some reason critics of mythicism are always mixing this up.

        Arguments about the lack of historical evidence involves separate issues, although obviously related. Without evidence for a historical Jesus, it forces us to come up with a new theory of how the religion developed and grew. Thiering offers one possibility of getting around this problem, but it is one possibility among many.

        “That list of names of biblical scholars – I chased some of it down, and it adds up to nothing, a bunch of names of Christian college professors who agree for no reason at all that she can’t be right.”

        I wasn’t arguing in favor of any of these scholars. I tend to be critical of the whole field, since it is dominated by apologists. Most of biblical studies is apologetics, not serious scholarship. Richard Carrier has regularly argued that biblical scholars have extremely low standards of historical evidence that would not be acceptable in a more respectable field of study.

        “Again, back to the start of these comments, the church prefers the obscurity and powerlessness of all those theories and the combinations of them that seem to add power to an argument while only being the splinters of a shattered, non-cohesive argument. They have no interest in an historical human Jesus – same as you, ha.”

        You could have fooled me. Most biblical scholars obsess over the historicity of Jesus. There is almost nothing that is more important to them. Their entire belief system and ideological worldview is dependent on it.

        But maybe I get the point you’re making. It’s always questionable to the degree apologists and other kinds of ideologues care about any facts, even those they claim to care about. If absolute historical proof of the non-existence of Jesus was discovered, the true believers would go on believing in a historical Jesus. That is because they have turned history into mythology. It’s not the historicity of their beliefs that matters but their belief in historicity.

        My belief, however, goes in neither direction. No matter what new evidence is found, my state of disinterest in a historical Jesus will likely remain the same. It depends, of course. If Jesus’ autobiography was located in the Vatican library, that would be fascinating and I’d definitely read it. I just somehow doubt we are going to find any major new evidence at this point.

        The silence of sources in the early Roman Empire is deafening. Even Thiering’s approach requires a lot of interpretation of evidence that could be easily interpreted in multiple ways and, indeed, others have interpreted it differently. The less there is evidence the more it opens itself up to interpretation.

        That is fine. I’m a big fan of speculating about the past, but I try to maintain an attitude of skepticism. Even with my most favorite theories, I hold them at some distance and try not to grasp them too tightly. I always assume that I might be wrong and that others might be wrong. It’s part of my radical skepticism. It’s just the way I am.

        “One, Thiering and her crew have the evidence, the original bloody texts, so this “there is no evidence” is not an argument, simply a blanket denial.”

        Read Price’s piece on her. He is a scholar who treats others fairly. He carefully lists the weaknesses of her method and its application. No one could ever accuse him of “blanket denial.” You can only claim them as the “original bloody texts” by interpreting them in that light. But there are other ways they can and have been interpreted. It’s part of a larger scholarly debate that is ongoing, as it should be.

        “That’s the only point I wish to dispute with you. The “there is no evidence” line isn’t the atheist argument, it’s the church’s.”

        Well, it isn’t the argument of the Vatican or fundamentalists. Even most respectable non-believing scholars toe the line with the standard view that Jesus was historically real. Bart Ehrman wrote an entire book against mythicism, in its relation to historicism. Many other scholars argue for Jesus as a radical community organizer, as a magician, etc. But most biblical scholars, believers and non-believers alike, hold to the view of Jesus’ historicism. On a related note, Thiering isn’t the first person to connect Qumran to early Christianity.

        “Turn it around: who has more evidence than Thiering? We base our judgment on evidence of no evidence rather than actual evidence we don’t like?”

        All these scholars are dealing with the same evidence. The scholars who disagree with her or who are partly critical aren’t denying the evidence in the slightest. Everyone recognizes the texts of the Qumran community. The issue of debate is how to interpret them. And that is an extremely complicated issue.

        Having read a fair amount of biblical scholarship, I’ve come across many plausible theories that deal with various evidence in different ways. The plausibility of one doesn’t negate the plausibility of another because plausibility is different than absolute proof. After a while, one grows circumspect about the competing claims of having the one right theory that will defeat all other theories, something like the one ring that will rule them all.

        “I just want to make the point that your post here is even stronger from the POV of the PT, where it was always an aristocratic cult. That helps explain the resentment of the rest of the empire, and in such a way that the usual Christian persecution complex (myth) isn’t the implicit explanation.”

        It might make it stronger. But my purpose is never to gather theories to support what I want to believe. I try my best to follow the evidence where it leads. And if it simply leads to a dead end or into a fog, so be it. That may make my arguments less impressive than if I were to make stronger assertions. I understand and I’m fine with that.

        My purpose is simply to explore what I find, as best as I’m able to understand, not to impress anyone with the power of my persuasion toward some particular viewpoint. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to have an influence on others, just that I’ll do it my own way, meandering and weak as it may seem. There is a method to my madness, even if it isn’t a method that serves the purposes others might prefer. I follow my daimon wherever it leads.

        All of that said, I’ll keep Thiering in mind. My thoughts circle around and around, often returning to old intellectual territory. I’m obsessive reader and so come across a wide variety of ideas and names. And I’m never afraid to go off the beaten path for, if anything, I’m wary of spending too much time on the beaten path.

        There are plenty of scholars and other serious thinkers who are more than willing to challenge authority, knock down idols, and kill sacred cows. If Thiering’s theory stands the test of time, further evidence and analysis will corroborate what she has written. The truth will out. I’m a patient guy, in my own way. I’ll let things sort themselves out. I don’t have to try to figure everything out all at once.

      • My motivation is more curiosity than anything. That is why I feel so little attachment to specific theories. Or rather I’m drawn to the most broad theories.

        The syncretistic meta-theory of early Christianity can incorporate multiple other theories, but isn’t dependent on any given theory. If Thiering’s theory is right, then it could be seen as part of the syncretistic meta-theory. And if it’s wrong, the syncretistic meta-theory would still remain because of the multiple strands and levels of influence.

        The syncretistic meta-theory is a way of understanding how the different theories, whichever are proven or seem most plausible, could have joined to form what came to be known as Christianity. Syncretism is also a way of understanding the larger cultural context of the ancient world where, in large empires and along vast trade routes, diverse populations mixed together.

        My interest is less in any specific religion than in the entire world that existed at the time. Even among Christians, they might not have had a single origin. Some were Jews and others were not. Gnosticism, for example, some argue was a separate tradition while others argue it was the original tradition. The earliest followers of Paul were Gnostics and other heretics.

        I just fine it fascinating. And I honestly don’t know how the individual threads can easily be separated.

    • Yeah. It’s unintentional. I have been writing. I’m in the middle of multiple posts. But I keep getting distracted. I’ll have some posts coming out soon.

      It’s not that I’ve been lazy. Just unfocused. I have kept busy. I’ve been reading a fair bit, various books on my typical interests.

      Some of the books I’ve been perusing are Harnessed by Mark Changzi, The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly, Strange Tools by Alva Noe, From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel C. Dennet, Rigor Mortis by Richard Harris, Is Science Racist? by Jonathan Marks, and a smattering of other stuff. Just yesterday, I took a nice long walk and read the essay “Coal Memory” by Alan Moore from Spirits of Place, an enjoyable and weird read.

      One book I came across recently would interest you, The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore. I was looking at it a while back. But I haven’t yet explored it more thoroughly.

      Remind me of what PT refers to. My mind has been so scattered lately that I don’t recall what we were talking about.

    • You’re talking about the Pesher Technique, aren’t you? One thing I noticed is that none of her books are in ebook form. I don’t buy a lot of physical books these days for reasons of limited space. The next time I’m at the public library or university library, I’ll try to remember to look for one of her books.

        • Well, I’ve looked at the website before, on multiple occasions. I get the basic argument being made. It’s not that I’m exactly disagreeing with anything. I’m just ‘agnostic’, so to speak, about all theories in biblical studies.

          I have theories I prefer, such as syncretic influences and the early Gnostics. But I’m not particularly attached to any conclusion. So, Thiering’s view interests me, as do many other views. Yet as a non-Christian, although not an anti-Christian, I feel no need to commit myself to any given interpretation.

          I have great curiosity about early Christianity. And at the same time, I feel psychologically and ideologically detached. My interest isn’t so much about Christianity itself and more about the entire era, what helped create the Axial Age and what resulted from it.

          As I see it, the Axial Age set the stage for the Enlightenment Age. And we are still seeing the consequences play out to this very day. The ultimate origins of Christianity, even if it could ever be proven beyond all doubt, wouldn’t be of central relevance to my own concerns. It’s just mildly intriguing.

          How you could capture my interest more fully is if you connected it to a larger historical and societal context. What might the Pesher Technique be able to tell us about the world at that time? What influences does it indicate? What can that clarify about Christianity along with other early forms of Mediterranean religion? And does it help us to understand the Axial Age?

          Those are the kinds of directions in which my mind is led. What does it mean? Why does it matter? How would it change what we think we know?

        • This relates to my interest in other similar issues. I study early Christianity for the same basic reason I study the syncretism of early civilizations, Karl Jasper’s Axial Age religions, Julian Jayne’s bicameral societies, Daniel Everett’s observations about the Piraha, and Lynne Kelly’s menmonics interpretation of the Australian Aborigines.

          What draws me in are questions about what all of this can help us understand about human nature and human society, human development and human potential. These other societies matter because they speak to our own humanity in the present. They tell us how we got here and where we might be going.

          That is the curiosity that drives me.

          • 3/10/18

            Hello Benjamin David Steele.


            I have read with interest the above interaction between you and Jeff/neighsayer concerning theories about the origins of Christianity, the work of Dr Barbara Thiering in particular. I am impressed with the breadth of your reading in this area, and indeed across many areas of early human history. I would be concerned, though, that having such a breadth of knowledge and entertaining such a multitude of theories, not only about Christian origins but also about the many strands of human cultures that preceded or proceeded Christianity, can lead one to be the intellectual equivalent of ‘Jack of all trades but master of none’.

            You disagreed that Thiering had been “ignored”. However, to my knowledge, and I acknowledge I could be wrong, she has been ignored in any way that matters. She may have provided “theories”, about the use of the pesher technique (PT) by the Essene community at Qumran and about the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls to coincide with events recorded in the New Testament, theories for which she provided evidence in support. However, what resulted from her application of the PT is not a theory but rather a history, and it is this history, as far as I know, that has not been tested by peers.

          • 2/3

            Yet Thiering was quite clear about how to test her history. Like a good social scientist, she set out her method in meticulous detail: the PT and its application to specific texts (select Dead Sea Scrolls, parts of the New Testament, texts omitted from the NT, and various contemporaneous historical texts). She then asked that peers replicate this method, in the true sense of the scientific term of “replication”, meaning exact reproduction. She had already replicated her method numerous times in the course of her own work, each time yielding the exact same outcome – the history she has provided in (excruciatingly) meticulous detail. She subsequently requested that independent scholars replicate her method to determine whether they got the exact same outcome. In the event that they did her history would be confirmed, in the event that they didn’t her history would be disconfirmed, whether wholly or partly.

            This challenge seems straight forward enough, for scholars with the motivation and integrity. According to Thiering, when applied to the data-set she studied the PT reveals a history as if we were solving a jigsaw puzzle (no analogy is ever adequate). Just as there is only ever a single way to piece together a puzzle, so too there is only ever one way to piece together the history of the Essene origins of Christianity. I am not aware of any recognized scholars having replicated Thiering’s method (the exact application of the PT to the exact same data-set she used) to determine whether the exact same history is revealed.

          • It seems I am not allowed to post 3/3. Or perhaps numerous copies of it will turn up later?

          • I never claimed to be an expert. So that is neither here nor there. I’m simply motivated by curiosity and I follow it where it leads. My love of learning is greater than my love of any given viewpoint, which is to say I’ve changed my mind a lot over time.

            As such, I don’t dismiss Thiering out of hand, but neither do I yet see a reason to embrace her position. Nor am I overly interested in debating her ideas. If you find them convincing, that is fine by me. But I’d just note that other scholars have looked at her ideas and disagreed. She isn’t particularly popular among academics or the public, not that she has been ignored either.

            Geza Vermes has debated her on a number of public forums, from The New York Review of Books to the (presumably Australian) ABC radio. The two scholars simply disagreed as scholars are wont to do. Yet other scholars have also considered her ideas. Robert M. Price wrote about her in an essay and in a book. Nicholas Allen and Dylan Stephens as well, the latter having worked directly with her on developing her website.

            Take that info as you will. It’s not as if this is an areas amenable to much scientific hypothesis and verification. Biblical studies has always been defined by a heavy hand of informed speculation. Nonetheless, her ideas are interesting, as are the ideas of many others.


  3. Thank you for your response. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to submit all four parts of my reply. I may have to stagger them.


    I am familiar with the critiques of Thiering’s work, although, like you, I am not an expert. I have only a lay person’s interest in this area of scholarship. So, I certainly can stand to be corrected. Even so, I have a social science background and I believe strongly that a body of work should not be dismissed without proper evaluation. I think I can state without fear of contradiction that what should not have happened did happen in Thiering’s case.

    The primary problem is that Thiering was arguably unique in an area of scholarship not known for its rigor. As you said yourself: “It’s not as if this is an area amenable to much scientific hypothesis and verification.” Yet that is precisely the approach that Thiering took, and it is, I believe, why she was so at odds with her peers.

  4. 2/4

    You have provided a selection of critiques of Thiering undertaken over the years, most of them from the 1990s when her work on Christian origins was first published. Let’s take a look at the first critique on that list by way of example. Here, Thiering defended herself against incorrect criticisms of her work by Vermes. She was quite specific, showing precisely where and why Vermes had either misinterpreted or misunderstood her work. And she made a point that remains critical for any evaluation of her work:

    “In his remarks about my book, Vermes omits to say that the detail of Jesus’ life is arrived at by the pesher technique, which, since it claims to be objective, is subject to proof or disproof. It is the method, not the results, that must be discussed.”

    I made the same point myself in my earlier post to you, and you seem to have overlooked it, also. So, I reiterate, it is only possible to evaluate Thiering’s history (the “results”) by replicating her method (exact application of the PT to the exact data-set she studied). This reality seems so far to have escaped Thiering’s peers, probably because it is a reality they cannot relate to. If so, the failing is with her peers, not with Thiering.

  5. 3/4

    Now look at Vemes’ reposte. He does not address any of Thiering’s criticisms of his critique of her work. Rather, the essence of his complaint is that she cannot possibly be right because her method is just not how we do things in this area of scholarship.

    This is fallacious reasoning, and, IMO, it is typical of the generally inadequate assessment Thiering’s work has received from peers. No wonder she simply withdrew from trying to defend her professional integrity and her originality within formal (male-dominated) academic channels. Instead, she committed her life’s work to the internet (2005-2009), where it has been translated into several languages and where, until her death in 2015, she communicated with scholars and lay people from all around the world (see the question-and-answer section of her website).

  6. 4/4a

    We could propose numerous reasons for why Thiering was sidelined, including the one she offered herself in her exchange with Vermes:

    “It is, of course, a familiar story that in the area of religion new historical evidence may not be treated fairly. I can only point out that this situation has arisen again, and trust that your journal will not allow such misinformation to stand.”

  7. 4/4b

    We won’t know whether Thiering is right or wrong, or partly right and partly wrong, until and unless her work is scientifically tested. If her history were to be confirmed through replication of the PT to the data-set she studied, thus confirming her history of the Essene origins of Christianity, then that confirmation would surely be something approaching a ‘scientific truth’? And it would have profound ramifications for human history, going backwards and forward.

  8. We won’t know whether Thiering is right or wrong, or partly right and partly wrong, until and unless her work is scientifically tested. If her history were to be confirmed through replication of the PT to the data-set she studied, thus confirming her history of the Essene origins of Christianity,…….

    • It isn’t a scientific hypothesis. And so it can’t be scientifically tested. That isn’t to say that she is proven wrong. All that it means is such theories are highly speculative and we as yet have no objective way to test them. The only hope we have is that more ancient texts will be discovered that give us further insights.

      I say this as someone who loves to speculate and loves to read about other’s speculations. Still, a speculation is a speculation and they’re dime-a-dozen. Some speculations are much more compelling, though, in their explanatory power and supporting evidence.

      It’s not up to others to test Thiering’s theory. That is for her supporters to do, if they can. There are thousands of theories in Biblical studies. And I understand that it isn’t always for rational reasons that some theories gets attention while others don’t. The state of affairs of Biblical studies for millennia now is pretty much only true believers are involved. It’s only been recently that non-believers are being more widely heard and acknowledged.

      Take the mythicist theory, one of the strongest alternative theories around. It was talked about in the ancient world but dismissed by true believers and so it was buried. Mythicism came back into debate prior to the revolutionary era (e.g., Thomas Paine) and once again was a position to be ignored or attacked, until the advocates were effectively silenced. The theory has come back over and over, each time disappearing, despite the evidence remaining as powerful as it was in the ancient world (to such an extent that early Christians admitted this basic fact).

      Now here we are in the 21st century. Finally, mythicism has become mainstream and is quickly overtaking literalism. So, it only took almost two millennia for it to take hold. But it wasn’t because the opponents of mythicism felt a moral duty to take it seriously. Instead, the persistence of its advocates along with the strength of evidence finally made the case so compelling that it could no longer be denied.

      Sure, that is unfair. All theories should be treated by the same standards. But that isn’t the world we live in.

  9. ……..then that confirmation would surely be something approaching a ‘scientific truth’? And it would have profound ramifications for human history, going backwards and forward.

    That was the rest of 4/4. Thank you for listening.

  10. 1/3

    Thank you for responding again. I am aware you aren’t particularly interested in Thiering. Three counter-points.

    In the case of scientific theories and the hypotheses derived from them, it is the collective responsibility of the scientific community to do the testing. Of course, we can expect the author/s to be most invested in doing the hard yards, with or without the support of colleagues and students. But some theories are so comprehensive and/or complex that it takes a village, so to speak, and more than one lifetime. And the attitude taken by one and all is: Take a good theory and try to prove it wrong.

    Thiering hasn’t given us a scientific theory. She has given us a human history spanning some 280 years (168BC – 113AD). This IS a history. It reads like a history, not a series of myths, nor even a story spawned from a single myth. It is cohesive, consistent, compelling and plausible. It does not read like speculation. Above all, at its core it reads like Christianity without the miracles and supernatural elements. I suggest it would be impossible to either fabricate or speculate into being a history of this detail, intricacy, magnitude and cohesion, even if you were determined to do so.

    • 2/3

      From what I know of it, this history has 1) face validity, 2) internal consistency, and 3) independent validation. Many social scientists can only dream of achieving this level of validity with their theories.

      The critical issue that critics and observers like yourself keep overlooking, whether wilfully or otherwise, is that Thiering had an intuitive understanding of the scientific method. In the course of her painstaking research she discovered in the DSS the tool – the pesher technique – for decoding what she found to be two layers of meaning in the text of the NT (gospels, Acts and Revelation). She states that every application of the PT led to the same outcome for her, at whatever point she was working within the larger history. She cross-referenced the history as it unfolded with independent contemporaneous historical texts and archeological artefacts.

  11. 2/3

    From what I know of it, and I wish I knew more, this history has 1) face validity, 2) internal consistency, and 3) independent validation. Many social scientists can only dream of achieving this level of validity with their theories.

    • I looked in the wordpress trash. I did see a bunch of your comments in there. Most of them were repeated comments. In the future, if a comment doesn’t post, don’t post it again. Instead, ask me about it and I’ll go look for it. WordPress likes throwing random comments into the trash. As for the comments you’re referring to, I’m not sure which ones they are.

  12. And here is 3/3 again.


    As scientists do, Thiering set-out her method in meticulous detail to allow replication. She has staked her reputation on the claim that every replication will yield the exact same outcome – the history of the Essene origins of Christianity, as she has revealed it. Now, this is a testable claim. And that is the scientific way.

    The other point I would make is that every time I present the above information in some form to intelligent, educated folk like yourself, they launch into lengthy commentary on anything and everything BUT said information.
    Finally, it is difficult to see how a single, plausible, cohesive Jesus myth theory will emerge.


    Why not test the single, plausible, cohesive history that has already emerged?

    Anyway, thank you for listening.

    • As I pointed out, Robert M. Price has written about Thiering on more than one occasion, including in one of his books (did you look at that book available at the link?). By the way, if you care to apply the same standard to yourself that you demand of others, you should go to the effort of actually understanding mythicism and astrotheology, which means reading some books on the topic. The evidence is overwhelming and a lot less speculative than that of Thiering’s theory.

      You might find Price a useful Biblical scholar. He is one of the most open-minded and careful academics in the field. He began as an apologist which is why he went into Biblical studies. But like some others, it was a careful reading of Biblical and related texts that made him lose faith. Still, even then he remained within more mainstream interpretations for a while and tended toward literalism. He was skeptical of alternative theories, even as he remained intellectually curious.

      After extensive criticism of mythicism and astrothoelogy, he finally researched it for himself and was persuaded. That led him to write a book in defense of what he formerly had dismissed (The Christ-Myth Theory And Its Problems). That is a prime example of intellectual humility, as Price has changed his mind multiple times as a Biblical scholar and in each case it was in challenging conventional thought. And unlike some scholars, he doesn’t seem to have a single ideological position or theory to defend. He is more of the kind of thinker who follows the evidence and entertains multiple perspectives.

      “For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that Christ was to come… [the wicked demons] put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.”
      ~Justin Martyr

      “The ancient Mediterranean world was hip-deep in religions centering on the death and resurrection of a savior god. […] It is very hard not to see extensive and basic similarities between these religions and the Christian religion. But somehow Christian scholars have managed not to see it, and this, one must suspect, for dogmatic reasons”
      ~Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus, pp. 86 & 88)


      “It is obvious from Justin’s “devil got there first” excuse that these mythical motifs existed before Christ’s purported manifestation on Earth and that there were those in his time who sensibly questioned the historical veracity of the gospel story, essentially calling it “mere marvelous tales” — in other words, a myth. In Dialogue with Trypho (69), in fact, Justin again invokes the “devil got there first” argument, specifically stating that these Pagan “counterfeits” were likewise “wrought by the Magi in Egypt.” (Roberts, A. ANCL, II, 184) Now, which “counterfeits” and “Magi” would these be? The “Magi” must be the Egyptian Priests, apparently called as such by people of Justin’s era, while the “counterfeits” must refer to at least some of the Egyptian gods. Justin also specifically names the Greek gods Dionysus, Hercules, and Asclepius as those whose “fables” were emulated by the devil in anticipating Christ. As we have seen, these gods have their counterparts in Egyptian mythology as well, in Osiris and Horus, as prime examples.”


      “Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists. One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann. He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him. Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity. Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive. Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica). He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity. If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well. However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it. What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes. But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical. Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.”

      • Benjamin, I have read at least some of the critics of Thiering that you linked to earlier, and I am visiting or revisiting them all now. I cannot seem to access more than the Abstract for Nicholas P.L. Allen (your last link). I will also look at your links on mythicism (I have some familiarity with D.M. Murdoch).

        I will try to get some thoughts on over the weekend, assuming WordPress will allow me, now that it thinks I am some sort of troll 😦

        • Murdock is fine. I liked her book on Egypt.

          She points out that Mary worship seems to have come from Isis worship. And it is true that many of the Black Madonnas in Europe were originally Isis statues. An interesting argument she makes is Isis was the first major deity to be worshipped as a loving deity on the same level as humans, a characteristic later inherited by Christianity.

          I’m not sure I’d make her work the first recommendation on mythicism. Not that there is anything inferior about her scholarship, as she knew multiple ancient languages and so could read the original texts from numerous groups and cultures. Still, I’d be more likely to recommend someone like Price because he is a more respectable scholar, despite his not having her linguistic fluency.

        • I might add that you don’t need to read anything I linked. I merely shared those as examples of academics who have engaged with Thiering’s pesher technique. But to be honest, I have no idea if those are among the better examples.

          Also, please understand that I have absolutely nothing against Thiering. As for historicist arguments in general about founding Christian figures, I have an intellectually and psychologically neutral attitude. I’m neither a believer nor a non-believer, and so it isn’t personal to me. With the deafening silence on Jesus in historical records, my response is largely that of indifference.

          My embrace of mythicism might seem to imply more than it does. From my perspective, mythicism is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of evidence, interpretations, and theories. And mythicism is hardly exclusionary, as it mixes and overlaps with other large areas of Biblical studies, including both historicism and non-historicism.

          Some literalists who became mythicists didn’t lose their faith like Price but instead found their faith strengthened like Tom Harpur. It’s all the same difference to me. As Thiering’s view can’t speak to the issue of mythicism, for or against, it isn’t of central concern to me. I simply find mythicism fascinating in general, far from being limited to one religion. Whatever might ultimately explain the origin of Christianity, assuming we will ever know, is for future scholars to figure out.

          I don’t have a dog in that fight.

        • I was raised in a liberal New Thought church, what is called practical Christianity (i.e., to test beliefs rather than take them on blind faith and dogmatic groupthink). Historicism was theologically irrelevant to my religious upbringing. That probably contributes to my indifference as an adult.

          My interests and priorities lie elsewhere. I originally came to mythicism through Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and similar thinkers. My focus is on understanding humanity, not merely the origins of Christianity. But having grown up in Christianity, I can’t help being curious about it.

          So, I won’t make for a good debating partner about Thiering and the pesher technique. That said, feel free to comment about it. I’m fine with you voicing your opinion here. Anyone is welcome here (as long as they aren’t a troll, racist, or authoritarian), no matter what the wordpress commenting system thinks about you.

    • Mythicism is one of those non-debates. Early Christians admitted to the parallels and they admitted that the parallels preceded Christianity. Their only difference of opinion is that they blamed it on the devil. Keep in mind that those early mythicists and the apologists they debated were far closer to the origins of Christianity than are we. They likely had access to evidence, texts, and public memory that has since been lost or destroyed.

      Also, there is absolutely no conflict between mythicism and historicism, between mythicism and pesherism. For mythicism, these other issues are secondary and in no way undermine mythicism itself. It’s possible that there were one or more historical figures that were formed into the stories we now know (euhemerism). Or maybe there were no such historical figures.

      It’s largely irrelevant from the perspective of mythicism. Any stories later told would borrow from the story structure, mythemes, etc of previous and contemporary traditions. That can be seen in how the Gospels are written in the same style of many non-Christian texts (e.g., The Life of Aesop). It’s also why Christians holidays and saints are largely borrowed from pagans (one Catholic saint is literally a Christianized version of Buddha).

      So, whether or not Thiering is right, it has no bearing upon mythicism. There is little doubt that mythicism is true. To such extent that it would be absurd to argue that the thousands of direct parallels (not just mythemes and imagery but even exact wording taken from paganism) in no way shaped Christianity and that it was a pure coincidence that Christianity happened to so closely match all of these earlier religions.


      • I’m reminded of why I stopped debating historicism. My own perspective is ‘agnosticism’. I really don’t care if an actual Jesus existed or not.

        Based on the meager evidence, there is no reason to assume we will ever know for certain in either direction. But even if there was an actual historical figure (or an amalgamation of multiple historical figures), it is lost below the layers of mythological borrowings, oral retellings, and heavily editing/redaction.

        • I can sympathize with your weariness, although I am not yet ready to agree about the futility of Christian historicism. Imagine if all scientists gave up on trying to discover the true origins of the cosmos because there is too little data and too many conflicting theories and it is all too hard. Why not just concede God-did-it, after all?

          For my part, I am reminded of why I have become reluctant to join debates between theists and atheists, the former implacably convinced Jesus is the world’s Saviour-in-waiting, the latter just as implacably convinced Jesus must have been a zombie.

          WP allowing, I’ll reply to your latest comments shortly, and you can do with them what you will 🙂

          • Unlike the origins of the cosmos, I see no grand advantage to knowing the origins of Christianity. It’s of interest but it won’t change anything. Furthermore, unlike the origins of the cosmos, scientific methods can’t be applied to Christian historicism. So, the comparison falls apart.

  13. All three parts are here now, in order. Thank you, Benjamin. Would you caution anyone against using WordPress for a blog or website, given how difficult it seems to be to post comments. Or is it only a problem with multiple or lengthy comments?

    • WP posts comments without trouble most of the time. But sometimes the glitch begins acting up.

      I think your repeatedly posting long comments and reposting them sent off a red alert that categorized you as a spam bot. And once you were categorized that way, the more you kept reposting the same comments the more you fit into the profile of a spam bot.

      The trick is to not get categorized as a spam bot, when possible. As such, post a comment just once. And if it doesn’t show up, then mention it in another comment and I’ll look into the issue.

  14. 1)

    “My focus is on understanding humanity, not merely the origins of Christianity. But having grown up in Christianity, I can’t help being curious about it.”

    This we share.

    “As Thiering’s view can’t speak to the issue of mythicism, for or against, it isn’t of central concern to me.”
    You are misinformed. Thiering’s work is a literal human history decoded from the deliberate application of myth.

    “Also, there is absolutely no conflict between mythicism and historicism, between mythicism and pesherism.”

    I believe Thiering would agree with you. The issue is that not only is there no conflict among these things but that they are in fact intimately related.

    “For mythicism, these other issues are secondary and in no way undermine mythicism itself. It’s possible that there were one or more historical figures that were formed into the stories we now know (euhemerism). Or maybe there were no such historical figures.”

    This is where Thiering departs from you. Her application of pesher has shown that the true origins of Christianity are a strategic combination of myth AND historical fact. (I guess we could call it ‘faction’?)

    She has proposed that mythicism was deliberately deployed in the NT and was critical for the dissemination of the new religion of Christianity, which was forged following a schism within the original Essene mission. Christianity emerged from the Western faction, the pacifists, or “seekers after smooth things” from the DSS, with Jesus eventually in the lead. Before his execution, Judas Iscariot had been a leader of the Eastern faction, the war party, or zealots. They remained true to the original mission, and, after several further failed attempts to prophesize the coming of the true Messiah, those that remained went on to mass suicide at Masada in AD 74.

    Mythicism was a means of appealing to the Gentiles being recruited. Christianity had to compete with the Hellenistic religions which were strongly based on myth and the supernatural. So, Jesus and his disciples devised stories (called parables, but you might recognize them as earlier fables) for a generally unsophisticated audience (“babes in Christ”; 1 Corinthians 3: 1). They also used supposed miracles (starting with Jesus’s supposed virgin birth and ending with his supposed death, resurrection and ascension) as a cover for real-life events. Each of these real-life events corresponded to a milestone in the evolution of Christianity from Essene Judaism.

    These stories, these myths and miracles, form the surface layer of the text of the gospels, Acts and Revelation. They proved to be a compelling and successful marketing strategy, as we would say today, given how quickly Christianity took off. But they concealed a literal history beneath, meant for the edification of insiders – the disciples and missionaries charged with spreading the new religion. Secrecy and seclusion were essential because Jesus was supposed to have died by crucifixion. As sick and maimed as he was, he had survived, and his life would have remained at risk for years afterwards, maybe even until his death (in Rome, 77AD).

    • “You are misinformed. Thiering’s work is a literal human history decoded from the deliberate application of myth.”

      I understand what you’re saying. I wasn’t arguing that historicist arguments can’t and don’t include any mythicism. Rather, the two are tangential issues. It seems fair to say that any informed person, no matter their views, has to admit the early Christians borrowed from earlier and contemporary traditions and texts. So, I wasn’t arguing against Thiering in that respect. Rather, I was pointing to a deeper significance of mythicism that historicism can’t tell us about, although obviously there is overlap.

      “This is where Thiering departs from you.”

      As point of fact, it is where all historicists depart from all non-historicists (and the historicist indifferent/agnostic). I’ve debated every kind of historicist you could imagine. It ends up being that, in the end, I just don’t care one whit about historicism. I’m not saying historicists are wrong, much less that I could prove them wrong even if I wanted to, but I am saying that they can’t prove they are right. It’s the point of weakness that every historicist argument is built on, severely limited data. In few other fields of scholarship, other than philosophy and literary studies, would such speculation built on lack of data be tolerated.

      “She has proposed that mythicism was deliberately deployed in the NT and was critical for the dissemination of the new religion of Christianity”

      Mythicists make this argument, of course. But so do many historicists. It’s hardly unique to Thiering’s pesher technique. So, it can’t be used to sort out which theory is closest to truth, at least within the paucity of historicist evidence. There just is no getting around that.

      “These stories, these myths and miracles, form the surface layer of the text of the gospels, Acts and Revelation. They proved to be a compelling and successful marketing strategy, as we would say today, given how quickly Christianity took off. But they concealed a literal history beneath, meant for the edification of insiders – the disciples and missionaries charged with spreading the new religion.”

      Not all that different from many other theories out there. It’s a variation on a theme within scholarship that has been around a long time. The problem, as Robert M. Price points out, is that Thiering is an outsider to this tradition as are the rest of us. She can speculate about what insiders thought way back when. Then again, any of us can speculate. Sure, Thiering’s view is plausible and so are the views of others, but there is no abundance of evidence to help us sort it all out.

      • If many historicists have argued that “mythicism was deliberately deployed in the NT and was critical for the dissemination of the new religion of Christianity”, assuming these historicists were working from some sort of knowledge base, then that is accumulative evidence that the argument is true.

        • “She can speculate about what insiders thought way back when. Then again, any of us can speculate. Sure, Thiering’s view is plausible and so are the views of others, but there is no abundance of evidence to help us sort it all out.”

          Being speculative and being plausible are logical opposites. You need to make up your mind what you really think. IMO, Thiering rarely speculates.

          • Nope. There is no logical opposition between speculation and plausibility. Speculation is at the heart of science, specifically in developing hypotheses to be tested. And to the degree a hypothesis can be tested and proven, we can speak of plausibility, at least as far as the scientific method goes. The problem is Thiering never got to the point of a testable and hence falsifiable hypothesis, never got beyond the stage of speculation, no matter how informed her speculations.

    • Thiering argues that Christianity came from the Essenes borrowing from earlier sources in order to tell a good story to convert others. Sure, that is possible, even plausible. And it is an old argument that has taken many forms. But that is far from ascertaining its probability, much less proof of its certainty.

      Just as probable is that the Essenes and Christians were borrowing from the same or similar sources. That would explain the seeming relationship between the two. It also has the advantage of being the simpler argument, not requiring a secondary layer of speculation about ancient insider knowledge.

      • Can you clarify what you mean by “a secondary layer of speculation about ancient insider knowledge”?

        Setting aside Occam’s razor, “the simpler argument” is not necessarily superior when the more complex argument can account for a 280-year history.

        • The simpler argument is superior to the degree that it is based on known evidence, as mythicism is. Mythicism doesn’t require any further speculation about historicism, not requiring to affirm or deny. Thiering’s speculations don’t merely take it to that second level but maybe a third level by positing that she has decoded secret knowledge that requires high degree of interpretation that few would agree upon.

  15. 2)

    How do we know there are two layers of meaning in parts of the NT? Because there are references in all four gospels, and possibly elsewhere in the NT, that support this interpretation. [I have inserted the numerals 1 and 2 in the quotes below.]

    2 Peter 1:16

    “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power [1], but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty [2].”

    Following Thiering, I believe this is an allusion to the two levels on which parts of the NT are written to accommodate two different audiences. Peter is acknowledging that some people were being told “cleverly devised stories about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power” [1], whereas other people – presumably him and the other disciples – were privy to what really happened to Jesus, as if they had been at all those events themselves [2]. They may or may not have been actual witnesses, but they were certainly going to have to bear witness now that they were in the roles of missionaries and church elders.

    Mark 4:33-34

    “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable [1]. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything [2].”

    In [1], the audience is religiously unsophisticated. They are the outsiders, Gentiles, being recruited into the new Christian church. They were to be taught a new and simple theology, the narrative of Christianity centering on the miraculous life of the Saviour Christ, in terms of parables and other mythical literary devices that they could understand and engage with.

    But the audience in [2] is getting a different story. These are the disciples, the insiders who were to be entrusted with the real story about what happened to Jesus and other key figures in the schism, so they would know the real history of the church they were to represent as missionaries. When he was alone with his disciples, Jesus explained what the parables really meant. On the surface they conveyed one meaning for outsiders. Below the surface they conveyed a literal history for insiders. Those entrusted with proselytizing the new religion had to be trained concerning both levels of meaning.

    • “How do we know there are two layers of meaning in parts of the NT? Because there are references in all four gospels, and possibly elsewhere in the NT, that support this interpretation.”

      That isn’t an original argument. I’ve come across it many times from other theories.

      For example, it’s the basis for the argument that Christianity was a Mystery School or was heavily influenced by the Mystery Schools. We know for a fact that some Jews around that time were attending Mystery Schools and apparently saw no conflict in this.

      But there are other theories as well that use this argument to point in other directions. So how do we get past mere speculation? At present, until further evidence is found, we can’t.

  16. 3)

    “So, whether or not Thiering is right, it has no bearing upon mythicism. There is little doubt that mythicism is true.”

    You are wrong about Thiering. She would agree with you that “mythicism is true”. And it has much to do with her history.

    I have not had time to process all your references, so I cannot be sure that Thiering has accounted for all mythical references in the NT in her exegeses, but from what I have read so far, she has.

    Take the example of Aesop’s fable, “The Fisherman and His Pipe”, from your link. https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/aesop-and-jesus/

    “As the fish were all leaping about, the fisherman remarked, ‘I say, enough of your dancing, since you refused to dance when I played my pipe for you before!”

    Your interjection: “[…] Nearly six hundred years later Yeshua makes reference to this same fable, having probably learned it as a child:”

    “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
    “We played the flute for you,
    and you did not dance….” ”

    Luke 7:31-32

    Here is an example of what Thiering is talking about. Jesus even utilized myth to describe the recruits coming into his new church. The Gentiles were neither as educated nor as religiously advanced as Jesus and his fellow ascetics. Here Jesus is likening the Gentile adults he was preaching to – “the people of this generation” – to “children sitting in the marketplace”. Perhaps Jesus and his disciples had earlier tried to explain certain moral and theological concepts to them (“We played the flute for you….”), but they did not understand and so did not engage (“…..and you did not dance”).

    This is why Jesus decided that recruits would henceforth be given a less sophisticated theology by way of introduction to Christianity (they were mere “babes in Christ”, 1 Corinthians 3:1). Myths, fables, parables, miracles, metaphors and the like were literary devices for educating adults who, compared to Jesus and his disciples, had the comprehension level of children. In time, it was assumed they would mature into a full understanding of their Church’s history and theology.

    We know with hindsight this never happened. The mythical, miraculous Christian narrative proved so successful that events would have overtaken good intentions. There was probably never a good time to confess the truth and reveal the initial deception and subterfuge. It would have eventually become counter-productive to admit that Jesus was a mortal man, not a miracle-worker and divine being. And possibly the true history was so repressed it was eventually forgotten, anyway. Thus, the myth of a divine and supernatural Messiah survives to this day!

    • You are starting with a historicist assumption and then, based on it, making your historicist argument. There may have been no historical figure at all behind the myths. We simply don’t and can’t know, not with any certainty. It’s not only that Jesus spoke parables and that those writing about him borrowed from elsewhere. Jesus himself is largely built out of myth, such that there are so many layers that we can’t determine if there is anything under all those layers.

      There might be and yet no one has been able to prove it. Thiering’s claims are no stronger than the claims of so many others. There is no place to get a toehold to even have a meaningful debate. Still, as Price admits, it’s important for alternative theories to shake up thinking, even when they can’t be fully proven. And Price does point out that Thiering should be taken seriously and treated critically, as he does.

        • There is almost nothing that Jesus said or did that doesn’t fit what was said and done by hundreds of other salvific godmen and similar mythological figures. Even the outline of his story fits the general pattern. It would be a miracle itself if the thousands of parallels were a mere coincidence. That type of mythological figure was extremely common. Even the name ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ was common back then, as there were other claimants to the title of ‘Christ’. There is precisely zero that is original to the Jesus myth. Even such things as natural law and martyrdom were borrowed from others, in that case from the Stoics (and early Christians were sometimes mistaken for Stoics).

      • “Still, as Price admits, it’s important for alternative theories to shake up thinking, even when they can’t be fully proven.”

        What are considered to be non-alternative or conventional theories?

        “And Price does point out that Thiering should be taken seriously and treated critically, as he does.”

        He doesn’t take her seriously, although he does treat her critically. For her part, Thiering didn’t suffer fools gladly. She would only try so hard to convince critics of the merits of her work and then she would withdraw, unwilling to keep hitting her head against a brick wall. This made her appear resistant to feedback.

        • Yes, it is the consensus among faithful Christian Biblical scholars practicing apologetics. So? Did you know it is consensus that most believers of every religion believe that their religion is true? How shocking!

          • This is not true, of course. Take, for example, the two atheist scholars who have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach as “pseudo-scholarship”: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina).

          • Ehrman began as a fundamentalist who studied at a bible college and went to seminary. Casey was raised by a father who was an Anglican Vicar and Casey himself originally sought to become an Anglican priest. They both began studying the Bible as true believers. Their atheism came later. Those kinds of former true believers often hold onto elements of their old belief system, such as literalism and historicism. There are few Biblical scholars who either aren’t true believers or didn’t begin their studies as true believers.

    • “I have not had time to process all your references, so I cannot be sure that Thiering has accounted for all mythical references in the NT in her exegeses, but from what I have read so far, she has.”

      There are hundreds of books on mythicism detailing thousands of references. Few have processed them all. I certainly haven’t. It would be a lifelong commitment to do so.

      • That there is such a proliferation of scholarship does not necessarily indicate a healthy state of affairs. It could just mean scholars are chasing their own tails. But even if this is not the case here, the sheer volume and complexity of our data-bases in all fields are becoming a huge challenge for humanity.

        • @Helen Harrison – To be honest, I find this ‘debate’ to be boring. I’ve had ‘debates’ like this so many times before. I know how it goes. You will never convince me because I simply see nothing to be convinced about, as no argument can overcome the lack of evidence. And I will never convince you because you have a specific theory that you are attached to and feel compelled to defend.

          We could go around and around like this for the rest of our lives. And I have let ‘debates’ continue like this for months and even years — yes, I had an ongoing debate with a guy for several years and it was no different when it ended than when it began. I’ve learned my lesson. If you like ‘debate’, then more power to you. But I’m not interested. I have more important things in my life.

          You are free to make a concluding statement. But after that, I won’t approve any further comments from you about Thiering. I don’t want to further clutter up the comments section with a ‘debate’ unrelated to the topic of the post.

          • “You will never convince me because I simply see nothing to be convinced about, as no argument can overcome the lack of evidence. And I will never convince you because you have a specific theory that you are attached to and feel compelled to defend.”

            You are right, Benjamin David Steele, but for the wrong reasons. It is the other-way-round. Just imagine that I had posted the above comment to you rather than that you had posted it to me first.

            Your information about Thiering is derivative, and I cannot surmount that, no matter how hard I try and how reasonable my arguments.

            I query your understanding of “evidence”, given your preference for the Jesus-myth theory over Thiering’s use of the scientific method and the validation of her work from other sources.

            But I am with you. I do not have the time for going around in circles with a debating opponent whose mind is fixed on a specific outcome from beginning to end. Like you, I have other things to do.

            Let’s agree to disagree and move on.


          • I’m the opposite of fixed. That is the point. Even my mythicist position is rather open-ended in it including numerous potential theories and speculations, even including historicist positions such as that of Thiering along with non-historicist positions. I don’t tend to ascribe to narrow rigid views. Even theories I prefer (such as Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind) I tend to hold lightly. I’ve never been prone to being a true believer, not in a religion nor in a theory. It’s just not my style.

          • You have no idea what science is, do you? There is nothing scientific about a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, i.e., speculation. And that is an entirely separate issue from ascertaining probability. A nonfalsifiable hypothesis is simply of unknown probability.

            That is because we are forced back on speculation to make any historicist argument since the evidence is so lacking. Such a problem applies to all historicist arguments, not only Thiering’s pesher technique. Yet historicist thinking has dominated Biblical studies because it is a field that has for centuries been dominated by true believers (and even among the non-believing scholars, most of them began as true believers, often fundamentalists and apologists). There is very little that is scientific about Biblical studies.

            Why is that so hard to get through your thick skull?

            You also don’t seem to understand what differentiates us. You have a specific theory you are clinging to. I don’t. My mythicism is a broad category including numerous viewpoints: D.M. Murdock’s astrotheology, Robert M. Price’s fundamentalist-turned-atheist skepticism, Freke and Gandy’s neo-Gnosticism, Tom Harpur’s Christian mysticism, Carl Jung’s archetypes, Joseph Campbell’s new agey spirituality, Richard Carrier’s hard-nosed historical scholarship, etc. Even Thiering’s Essene historicism apparently was mythicist as well.

            So, my mythicism can contain your view but your view obviously can’t contain mine. This is because I’m not defending a specific theory, as you are. Your view is narrowed down to one theory that you hold as a dogmatic belief to be asserted against all others, rather than as a tentative hypothesis to be tested. I personally don’t have a strong preference among theories, neither historicism nor anti-historicism, neither for nor against Essenes, neither religious nor anti-religious. I’m not even exactly against literalism, not in an all-encompassing way, as I admit that early Christian texts contain some verifiable historical facts (e.g., Paul literally existed; but even then Paul’s writing leaves open a wide variety of interpretations, including a non-literal and non-historicist view of spiritual/gnostic Christ).

            My position is that it is unlikely there was a single source of Christianity. Essenes may have contributed to early Christian beliefs and practices. But then again surely many others did as well: Neoplatonic Alexandrian Jews, Stoics, Mystery Schools, Isis worship, Dionysus worship, Mithras worship, Roman genre of the romance novel, etc. There was no single early Christianity for multiple groups were around. Christianity, as we now think of it, is something we anachronistically project back onto those groups — largely informed by the ideological fights of heresiologists.

            The social reality was far different at the time, though. Christians and other groups were sometimes mixed up, probably because membership between groups was mixing and shifting — including Jews attending Mystery Schools and Jews worshipping Yahweh-Zeus. So, its unsurprising that Christians and Stoics got confused for each other, and maybe many followers of such groups weren’t particularly concerned about separating themselves into identifiable social categories, which is to say many of those groups were more like amorphous movements.


            “How, then, did you know a Jew in antiquity when you saw one? The answer is that you did not.”
            ~Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginning of Jewishness

            As you see, I have little to defend because I’m not taking a side in which ancient group gets to claim Christianity as its own, one ideological ring to rule them all. That is a massive difference between you and I. And that is what is so irritating about your expecting others to disprove your belief in Thiering’s nonfalsifiable hypothesis. It is your responsibility to prove your beliefs or at least to present them in falsifiable form, not the responsibility of others to disprove them. Or at the very least it is your responsibility to be intellectually humble enough to admit that you’re speculating. I’m fine with speculation, as long as it is done out in the open.

Please read Comment Policy before commenting.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s